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Sherry Dryja's picture

Pairing Polish Delicacies with Beer

Although history has not always been kind to Poland, its people are known for their resilience and their ability to preserve their culture through even the darkest hours. Since food is a way to keep hold of one’s culture, those who have had to emigrate from the homeland maintain ties through aromas and flavors that remind them of the old country.

These families have inspired our menu of tasty Polish cuisine. In fact, three of our four recipes come straight out of the kitchen of Lucy and Ted Dryja, a real-life babcia (grandmother) and dziadek (grandfather) who arrived in Detroit after World War II.

Lucy gave us her savory pierogi and golabki (cabbage roll) recipes. She makes the best potato pierogis, but we wanted something a little more exotic, so we made ours with sauerkraut and mushroom. We also turned her cabbage roll recipe into a vegetarian casserole. Other than the vegetarian “meat” crumbles, the ingredients are essentially the same. The main difference is our technique – making it into a casserole takes less time and effort than rolling cabbage rolls. If the vegetarian version doesn’t sound appealing, simply replace the two packages of vegetarian “meat” crumbles with one pound of beef and one pound of pork.

Both recipes pair well with Bohemian Pilsner, the most common beer style in Poland. The Zywiec Lager and Okocim O.K. Beer are examples. Because Polish brews aren’t always readily available, we went with something closer to home and similar in style, Resignation Brewery’s KCCO Gold Lager. It is light and crisp in flavor, perfectly reflecting the pilsner style from the old world, while pairing beautifully with our savory dishes.

Ted, who was born and raised in a town outside of Krakow, has a bit of a sweet tooth. His specialty is a dessert called Andrut. Ground chocolate and walnuts are creamed together with sugar, butter, and eggs, which are then layered in between large tort wafers, similar in look and texture to ice cream cones. Ted likens this dish to the Polish version of a Kit-Kat, though Andrut is far more decadent. It should be pointed out that Andrut has raw eggs in it, so be sure to use pasteurized eggs and store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Neither Ted nor Lucy make the Polish jelly doughnuts known as Paczki, but they both love to celebrate Fat Tuesday with them, just like all the other people who line up outside Polish bakeries on Fat Tuesday to get these sweet delicacies. We created a version of our own that might have neighbors lining up outside your house when you make them. Fill them with the traditional plum jelly like we did, or use any other fruit jelly or custard filling you like.

Porters are the dark beer style commonly found in Poland. This style goes well with both the Andrut and the Paczki, and Zywiec and Brower Witnica both make porters that are available in the United States. If you can’t find them near you, try any porter with a bit of a coffee bent. We went with Red Hook’s Blackhook Porter and Kona Brewing Company’s Pipeline Porter.

For something a little different, try a dunkel, such as Hofbräu München’s Dunkel with the Andrut. Granted, this is a Bavarian beer, but it is medium-bodied, so it stands up to the richness of the dessert and has notes of cocoa and almonds that nicely complement the chocolate and walnuts.

Poland has shown itself to be a country that can rise up through the ashes to reinvent itself while simultaneously honoring its historical and cultural roots. Warsaw, for example, was essentially demolished during World War II, but today is a thoroughly cosmopolitan city with architecture, infrastructure, arts, and restaurants that rival any city in the world. If you haven’t already, add it to your travel bucket list. And, until you can make the journey there, enjoy a taste of Poland by cooking up our menu and pairing it with a Polish style brew. Na zdrowie!